One Key Factor In Europe’s Ryder Cup Success

October 3, 2018
Dylan Beirne

For those around the European Team coming into the event, it was no secret that Le Golf National would be a central part of their Ryder Cup success. With punishing rough and a setup that encouraged few drivers to be hit, the course played away from the ‘bomb and gauge’ approach. Many others are now left wondering how they underestimated it’s impact so much.

With penal rough and the highest missed fairway penalty (+0.57 strokes/miss) of any course on the European Tour, driving accuracy inevitably became a key focus. While taking a basic stat like driving accuracy alone is never an ideal approach, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the only one of the US picks ranked above any of the European picks in this area in 2018, and 3 of the 4 US picks were in the bottom 25%. Few would say passing over players like Keegan Bradley (14th) and Kyle Stanley (7th) was controversial, but looking a little further down the list for players who fit the requirements may have proved beneficial for Furyk.

Short-term predictive analysis in golf is rarely a successful endeavour, however the below table proved to be a remarkable predictor of success last week. Of the full 24 players who played in the foursomes and fourball matches, the order of rankings for the week proved to be pretty much exactly in line with the season long rankings. Alongside this, it’s hard to ignore the simple correlation between Driving Accuracy Rank and Points.

Europe Worldwide Rank (of 362) Ryder Cup Rank (of 24) Points
Stenson 1 1 100%
Poulter 29 3 50%
Garcia 119 4 75%
Casey 158 5 50%
USA
DeChambeau 131 9 0%
Woods 274 12 0%
Finau 323 17 50%
Mickelson 299 24 0%

Moving swiftly on from a basic analysis of Fairways hit, we want to know not only why the picks gave a record breaking performance, but why Europe blew away the strongest US team in history. Looking through this weeks strokes gained performance of each team tells a comprehensive, if unsurprising story.

SG

Ryder Cup – European Strokes Gained Advantage over the US

Europe came into this event with a marginal advantage in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (around 0.07 SG/Round), generally due to hitting ~3% more fairways than the US Team. That specific advantage was very apparent over the pairs matches, with the Europeans dominating Team USA off the tee, gaining 0.75 of a stroke per round on them. As would be expected, the foursomes format further enhanced the importance of this, with 6/8 matches being won by the pairing who gained more strokes off the tee.

The general narrative for this is that the US players simply aren’t used to playing tight courses where they need to hit the fairways, and while general narratives aren’t always correct, in this case its right on the money. Le Golf National’s missed fairway penalty is higher than any of the courses played on the PGA Tour this year, and the below shows just how drastically different the test is when compared to the PGA courses with the most penal rough.

Fairways

The relatively small cluster of courses in the above graph also highlights a potentially interesting debate about one-dimensionality of PGA Tour courses (and as a result, its players). For a US team still trying to work out how to win a Ryder Cup away from home, this is probably a good starting point.